The builder for the Nightingale apartments, one of the highest-profile construction jobs in Ballarat, has been announced - and it's gone to a local firm.
Long-established construction company H. Troon - which is based on Creswick Road - will start building on site in Ballarat Central within the next two months.
The announcement will provide some much-needed optimism for the local construction industry in a week when some bleak job figures were released for the local area.
It will also mark a significant new arrival on the Ballarat skyline. It is certainly not without its opponents, particularly in the immediate area - but its advocates hope it will usher in a fresh style of apartment living into the city.
Significant early enthusiasm for the project, which is renowned for its environmentally-friendly credentials, have meant the majority of its apartments have been pre-sold before the first brick has been laid. It has also meant construction could go ahead as planned despite the difficult economic circumstances.
The five-storey building - which will be home to 27 new apartments as well as a ground floor office and cafe - is the first Nightingale project to be built in regional Victoria. It follows the construction of several apartment blocks under the Nightingale umbrella in Melbourne, all designed to be low-cost and carbon-neutral.
Company director and construction manager James Troon said it was great news for the firm and the city.
"We're very excited to be part of the project and team up with Nightingale housing," he told The Courier while standing at the Davey Road site, with only the shell of the previous warehouse still standing after a recent demolition process.
Mr Troon said the project was quite different to others he had been involved in.
"We've got a higher level of thermal rating to make, we use a lot of recycled material and there's some of the systems that go into the building that make sure it's as efficient as possible," he said.
IN OTHER NEWS:
He said the fact that the construction was going ahead despite the economic downturn demonstrated the city's appetite for projects of this nature.
"They've been able to offer [something] to the market that hasn't been offered in an apartment style sense... previously.
"That's very exciting - and I think that's a big reason they've got pre-sales and been able to get it off the ground."
The project had faced substantial opposition from people living along the street as well as on Lyons Street South. It was approved by a majority of councillors last November in a highly charged public planning committee meeting.
Mr Troon said that its construction would mark something of a milestone for in-fill development in the CBD, which the City of Ballarat hope to increase dramatically over the next few years to balance the rapid westward expansion.
"It's very significant. Ballarat has an outer sprawl happening out in the subdivision areas - and a lot of people looking to move to the regional areas," Mr Troon said. "The fact we can look at a different style of housing in the city centre, that's very important."
We're very excited to be part of the project and team up with Nightingale housing... The fact we can look at a different style of housing in the city centre, that's very importantJames Troon, construction manager
Asked whether it could be a sign of things to come, he said: "Potentially - with the amount of work that's going into the CBD with the GovHub, that's got potential to bring more people to Ballarat.
"With COVID too, more people may be looking to move to the regions."
The last stages of demolition are now underway and the construction process is due to start within eight weeks. Building work is scheduled to last about 12 months, with new owners to move in a short while after completion.
"Serendipity" is how spokesperson and project lead Jennifer Kulas describes the arrival of Nightingale to Ballarat, its first regional project.
The Nightingale concept began in Melbourne, and there are now several apartment complexes created under its banner. The first was in the inner north suburb of Brunswick, where the 20-apartment Nightingale 1 was completed in 2017 - although the inspiration came from an earlier building, The Commons, which was also built on Brunswick.
The concept and designs - by Breathe architecture - began attracting attention, winning several design awards. The homes are sold at cost while the buildings are powered by renewable energy, with organisers saying bulk purchase of sustainable electricity makes it cheaper for residents. The buildings are 100 per cent carbon neutral, with rainwater harvesting one of the design features included, as well as communal areas to encourage a sense of community. Twenty per cent of homes also go to community housing providers, who can lease to more vulnerable members of society.
Often considerably higher than neighbouring housing stock, the developments are not universally welcomed - and such has been the case in Ballarat, with several long-term nearby residents unhappy about the prospect of such a tall neighbour.
The site was originally identified for Nightingale by Joseph van Dyk of Ballarat-based development company Hygge Property.
Following his approach, Nightingale began to investigate. Attracted by the lack of heritage overlay on the proposed site, as well as the active encouragement of infill projects in the Ballarat Planning Scheme, they began to gauge the demand locally.
"Our interest was really piqued," Ms Kulas told The Courier. There were really low vacancy rates [in Ballarat] and our aims aligned with the City of Ballarat. Uniquely, there was capacity to densify with no heritage overlay."
The hope is we deliver this, more than 27 people are interested in buying the apartments and we can do it againJennifer Kulas, project lead Nightngale
After enough people expressed interest, a planning application was submitted, then approved by councillors in November last year.
There are still a handful of apartments still available - a situation that would be unheard of in Melbourne, where popularity is such that the only way to buy is via a ballot process.
Ms Kulas said the project took a "leap of faith" but said if it proved successful, they could be back:"The hope is we deliver this, more than 27 people are interested in buying the apartments and we can do it again."
September 2019: Interest in the proposal proves strong
September/ October: Planning application submitted
November 2019 project approved: Nightingale apartments signed off despite resident tears
March 2020: VCAT approves Ballarat Nightingale apartments
If you are seeing this message you are a loyal digital subscriber to The Courier, as we made this story available only to subscribers. Thankyou very much for your support and allowing us to continue telling Ballarat's story. We appreciate your support of journalism in our great city.